History of Citizen Advocacy

In 1966, the United Cerebral Palsy Association sponsored a conference near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, at which participants asked: ‘What happens to my handicapped child when I'm gone?' Dr. Wolf Wolfensberger (who later became the founder of Citizen Advocacy) was in attendance and took note of the limitations and shortcomings of each of the protective measures discussed at the conference. In response, he conceptualised an entirely new form of advocacy scheme that placed the needs of vulnerable individuals at its heart. This model would eventually become known in 1968 as Citizen Advocacy.

The first Citizen Advocacy program began in Lincoln, Nebraska in 1970. It later received a Presidential commendation. Workshops followed and people from throughout North America went away to start other Citizen Advocacy programs. By 1972, USA Federal grant money paved the way for over 200 programs in USA alone.

In 1979, the ‘Standards for Citizen Advocacy Program Evaluation’ (commonly referred to as CAPE) was written and published by Dr. Wolfensberger and John O'Brien. Drawing on the experiences of programs that both succeeded and failed, they came up with a set of clear, practical standards to gauge the quality of Citizen Advocacy practice.

Citizen Advocacy in Australia began in Western Australia in 1980 when a parent group set up the first Citizen Advocacy office. In 1981, the first Victorian program started in a TAFE college. Canberra followed in 1982, South Australia in 1986 and Launceston, Tasmania in 1989. By 1991 seven programs (including a State office) had been established in New South Wales, and eight more in Victoria. Three programs were established in Queensland between 1996 and 2003.

Citizen Advocacy programs are also present in the United Kingdom, Canada and New Zealand.